For the second time this month, I’ve read a novel that actually reads more like a collection of short stories. But unlike my previous experience, I really enjoyed Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for literature, Olive Kitteridge is a collection of stories set in a small town in Maine. The common thread that ties them all together is a local school teacher and namesake of the collection.
Olive is strong-willed, brash, opinionated and sometimes even cold. However, she loves fiercely and deeply and through the eyes of her fellow citizens the reader see a women who is respected for her truth-telling and loyalty.
Anyone who has lived any amount of time in a small town will recognize the characters in Olive Kitteridge – the widow embarrassed by her husbands infidelity; the mother loyal to a son who has committed an unforgivable sin; the young man on the brink of suicide because he never quite outran his troubled youth; the older married couple thankful they’ve outlived their storms and can now enjoy the “dessert” of their relationship; the floundering live-in girlfriend desperate for her lover to commit; and many others.
And, most readers who have struggled with wanting to love well but who acknowledge they fall short will see a part of themselves in Olive. It isn’t always pretty, but it is true.
Olive’s own story contains her husband, Henry, and her son, Christopher. Her son marries a strong woman (not unlike Olive) who moves them across the US to California and then divorces him. In their later years Henry suffers from a stroke and loses the ability to communicate with Olive. Her character is tested immensely with both men.
One review I read of this early on recommended it for book clubs because there was so much to talk about. I whole heartedly agree. There are many complex characters who warrant their own discussion. Add Olive to that and you’ve got an evening of laughter, wonder and honesty.
Update: I HIGHLY recommend the HBO miniseries based on this book! Frances McDormand is brilliant as Olive Kitteridge.